Top cat: Annabella Rossini at her Alley Cat coffee cafe, Melbourne Street, East Maitland. Picture: Marina NeilAlley Cat Espresso, 92 Melbourne St, East Maitland. Mon-Fri, 5am to 1pm, Sat-Sun, 7am-Noon.
Spend a minute chatting with Annabella Rossini at her Alley Cat Espresso in East Maitland and things just start to make sense.
A chandelier in a tent? Every café should have one. A café owner committed to socially sustainable enterprise? Proudly.
What about a multi-award winning South and Central American blend that knocks your socks off with bold, chocolately characters – a full-bodied, tongue-tingling rush of flavour to the brain that makes you wonder about the housing market in Maitland? As good as a holiday.
A world away from Newcastle, on a quiet high street, a short vacation is exactly what this morning feels like. Annabella is fond of claiming she has made a little bit of Melbourne on Melbourne Street but there is something far more exotic than Victoria being mixed up in here. Nestled snugly inside a cushioned tent and under that twinkling old chandelier, I feel like a confused tourist being spoilt by a tribe of sunburnt bedouins.
Every other camper in the alley knows the ropes. Coffees appear to be ordered and made with nothing more than a wink and a warm smile. When the customers do speak it is quietly and intimately with each another. As Annabella politely reminds me that she has been serving coffee from this site for two years, yet another thing suddenly makes sense. This campfire was lit some time ago. I have arrived late to the party and all the fuss and flames have upped and gone.
The good news:my coffee has just arrived. It is one of those moments when you wonder whether every other roaster might have been doing it wrong. When Scott Jones and Kevin Crouse founded the Black Drum roasting house, they fused the richness of experience with the nuts and bolts of pure coffee nerdiness. The mad caffeine scientist and the master roaster entered a lab in Blacktown and emerged with a now legendary range of medium to dark roasts.
What Alley Cat barista Will has served me up in East Maitland is a staggering maze of all those hard to find flavours. Smoky dark but teetering on bitter chocolate. A warm and malty fingertip of syrup. A caramel bud. Black Drum call it their four/four blend. It is hands down the best coffee I have ever had in Maitland. If there are coffees on this street that are almost as good then this is a strip to be left alone no longer. Get yourselves out of town -take a trip this weekend to Melbourne. Forget Victoria.